Theatre: Stage is set for a great '98

Kevin Spacey, Juliette Binoche (pictured), Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams... and `Doctor Dolittle'. The coming theatrical year promises much

You read it here first: Next year, Pete Postlethwaite will play the title role in the musicalisation of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Lesley Joseph will storm the West End as St Joan and Harold Pinter will star in the first major revival of No Sex Please We're British. OK guv, it's a fair cop, I'm telling porky pies, but wouldn't it be nice if just one of those were true?

Actually, Pinter will be treading the boards, but in a triple bill of his plays, The Lover, The Collection and A Kind of Alaska, at the Donmar - who will end the year equally starrily with Emma Thompson in As You Like It.

Speaking purely personally, my theatrical taste buds are not exactly turning anticipatory somersaults at everything planned for 1998. The stage version of Saturday Night Fever opens in May directed by Arlene Phillips. (Hasn't she come a long way since Hot Gossip graced our television screens?) A week later, the New York sensation Rent opens here. What British audiences will make of this deeply American "La Boheme-meets-HIV show" remains to be seen. The following month marks the return of Andrew Lloyd Webber with his new show, Whistle Down the Wind. He has taken Mary Hayley Bell's novel (and Bryan Forbes's classic film) and relocated the heartbreaking story of children who mistake an escaped convict for Jesus from "oop North" to America.

On the plus side, there are juicy world premieres from unusual suspects. Vanessa Redgrave has unearthed an unperformed Tennessee Williams play which will see the light of day at the National. Most of the recent Williams revivals have been from his late, self-indulgent days, but this grand- scale drama predates The Glass Menagerie, the play that made his name. Look out, too, for new plays from Timberlake Wertenbaker, Sebastian Barry and even Edward Albee, whose The Play About the Baby will be directed at the Almeida by Howard Davies, who is also reviving The Iceman Cometh with Kevin Spacey, Rupert Graves and Clarke Peters. The Almeida has also enticed Juliette Binoche to Islington for Pirandello's Naked.

The National premieres The Day I Stood Still later this month, Kevin Elyot's first play since the exquisite My Night with Reg. It is designed by the mind-bogglingly busy Mark Thompson, whose year begins with another hotly anticipated play, Never Land by Phyllis Nagy, at the Royal Court, directed by Steven Pimlott and starring Pip Donaghy and Sheila Gish. In July, Thompson and Pimlott team up again with Phillip Schofield who will "Talk to the Animals" in the first ever staging of Doctor Dolittle. Better than Talking Telephone Numbers... but then, what isn't?

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